Owner will continue to oversee Ridgefield's Henny Penny Farm

At a special town meeting Wednesday night, residents voted in overwhelming support of a lease renewal between the town and Henny Penny Farm. The vote allows owner Whitney Freeman to continue operating the farm on Ridgebury Road, at the former McKeon property.

At a special town meeting Wednesday night, residents voted in overwhelming support of a lease renewal between the town and Henny Penny Farm. The vote allows owner Whitney Freeman to continue operating the farm on Ridgebury Road, at the former McKeon property.

Bryan Haeffele / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — Residents overwhelmingly supported a lease renewal between the town and Henny Penny Farm, but with a few changes.

The renewal allows owner Whitney Freeman to continue operating the farm on Ridgebury Road. The 16-acre parcel lies about a half-mile north of the former McKeon property, which is designated as conservation land and owned by the town. Freeman grazes a herd of roughly 70 sheep that aid in soil regeneration on both properties.

Residents approved the new lease at a special town meeting Wednesday night. Only a couple of nays could be heard from the audience of more than 60 people.

Neighbors had expressed concerns about the seemingly commercial nature of the farm. The original five-year lease only approved 30 sheep — the new one allows up to 85.

Before the vote, First Selectman Rudy Marconi informed the audience about three changes made to the lease following a public hearing on Sept. 1. The first grants Freeman permission to graze a maximum of 85 sheep and three llamas at the property. “No other livestock shall be permitted ... except with the consent of the Board of Selectmen,” the lease reads.

The second and third changes stipulate that Freeman “shall” contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture — rather than “may” — to suggest changes to her grazing practices if a “species” of special concern — rather than “birds” — is subject to affect the area. Some felt that increased activity on the farm, such as the noise of lawnmowers and tractors, causes disturbances to nearby wildlife.

Conservation Commission Chairman James Coyle implored voters to follow the board’s lead and approve the lease. In August, members extended Freeman’s lease for another five years by a near-unanimous vote.

“This item has been under the study of the commission for months now,” he said. “Henny Penny Farm … has done a marvelous job of maintaining the property, and (Freeman’s) an extra resource to the Conservation Commission.”

Several residents spoke in favor of extending the lease at the public hearing on Sept. 1. In addition to live testimony, the Board of Selectmen received 15 letters “all in support” of the extension, Marconi said.

In his address, resident John Katz noted Ridgefield’s agrarian roots. He said farming activities should remain to the extent they can since they add value to the community.

“The idea that we would want to limit the expansion of farming in Ridgefield to me seems really retrograde,” Katz said. “The kinds of things that Whitney Freeman does on the land … (are) really quite remarkable. For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of seeing some of it really ought to visit.”

Visit hennypennyfarmct.com for information.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com